It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting on the patio in front of the hotel, in a town called Francorchamps. I’ve got a beer (Jupiler, some type of local lager I believe), a pizza from the little place up the street, and I’m listening to music (Handwritten by Brian Fallon) and people watching. The track is about a 10 minute walk to my left, and the cars and people have been solid and constant since I sat down about an hour ago.
Another weekend in the books, and rather a cool one. I’ve been in Belgium since Wednesday, and it’s home to one of the most famous race tracks in the world; Spa-Francorchamps (or just Spa). It’s old, has a lot of history, is very long and hilly, and has proper old-school high speed corners and long straights. One of the last of a dying breed. I got to walk around it on Thursday morning, and it was one of the better walks I’ve ever been on I would say.
Racing/work wise, it’s been a fairly unremarkable weekend. It rained a bit during qualifying which interested me as some who likes racing, and complicated my work life quite a bit, so I guess it was a wash. The races were fairly straight forward, quite a bit of passing but not a lot of side by side racing, if that makes any sense. Spa is a place you can pass because it’s big and fast, but it’s hard to run side by side because it’s fast and scary.
I knew it had been a little while since I’d written. I didn’t realize it had been May, post-Monaco. That feels like forever ago. Based on my last post, I can see I was headed to a GP3 test in Hungary, and I believe I returned from that and went straight to Silverstone to help out with a GT race there.
July was a busy month for me. The first weekend was a race in Spielberg, Austria. Then I went almost immediately to Silverstone, which is in England about an hour north of Reading/Didcot. The morning after I got back from Silverstone, I flew to Venice to meet Alex for a little Italian vacation (Venice, Rome, Naples and then Budapest). Then the race weekend and helping with an F1 test at Budapest. Then the morning after I flew back to England, I flew back to Canada for almost 2.5 weeks of vacation. But now I’m getting ahead.
There is too much there to go over in detail. I enjoyed Austria, very stereotypically hilly small town in the middle of nowhere. The schnitzel was good, as you may expect, and surprisingly the pizza (you’re going to hear that again).
On my way to Silverstone, I stopped at Stonehenge, which had been on my to see list the entire time I was in England for school (2008-2009). And of course, it started raining during my drive, to the point that when I arrived it was pouring. That limited my visit, but I still enjoyed it. You’re just driving down the A-road and then it appears in the middle of a field. Silverstone is a historic track in F1, commonly referred to as the home of F1, as so many of the teams are located within an hours drive. They’ve made some big changes to the track the last few years, and I am not as keen on the new version as I was on the old. But it was a good weekend, nothing exciting. To be honest, the last several race weekends have been uneventful, which is a good thing for me as far as the job goes.
I probably should have a whole post of more about the trip to Italy, but I think I’ve missed the boat on that. Alex and I had a great time, it was quite nice to have a friendly and familiar face around. We enjoyed Venice, which is an absolute maze to try and get around. Who would choose to build a city there? That’s also probably the first time in my life that I went 48 straight hours without seeing a car or road.
We rented a car and drove to Rome. This seemed like a good idea. Or at least, when we originally conceived of the trip it was a European road trip, and I never lost the idea of a rental car. The drive to Rome was fine, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone drive there by choice. And Rome was spectacular. There was entirely too much to see in almost and 180 degree field of view almost anywhere in the city. Highlights for me were the Coliseum (the single thing I was most looking forward to on the trip), the Pantheon (this absolutely blew me away and turned out to be my favourite thing in Rome at least), and this little cocktail bar we found that looked out over the Spanish steps that had good aperol spritzes and a spectacular view. There were so many other things that were amazing too, far too many to list. I am pretty sure I will go back to Rome someday, and perhaps I will write about it properly then.
Then onto Naples, which is a place I hope I don’t ever find myself in again. Pulling off the highway, I asked Alex if we had just crossed the border into Detroit. It was mostly a joke, or at least half, but it turned out to be not far from the truth. Naples was dirty and grungy and the roads were awful, it wasn’t very friendly, it felt like an entirely different world than Rome. The only good thing was the pizza, I had been told by numerous people that Naples has the best pizza in the world. I can’t speak to that. But I can say that if you like thin crust pizza, you can do an awful lot worse for a lot more money than what you can find in Naples. I was recommended a particular place on a little street about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, and it was very tasty.
We had about 36 hours in Budapest before I had to start work there (the race was the following weekend). Budapest is a cool old eastern European town, that feels (to me, the uneducated) to be a bit Soviet. Giant buildings set low on the hills across the river, an open square (other than the requisite old statues) in the middle of some of the government buildings. It was an interesting place to wander around, and if you ever want to buy an old Soviet passport you can find them in pretty much every little side street market. The highlight for me was the thermal baths, which are built on hot springs. Though the one we went to is a massive building, with probably 12 pools at different temperatures, and/or with different elements added to the water. And there is a large courtyard in the middle with three massive out door pools, a bar and lots of space to lie in the sun. It was quite an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Then Budapest race weekend, again not terribly exciting. The exciting bit was knowing I was heading home in a couple of days… But in between I had signed up to do a one day Mercedes tire test, my first F1 experience on my own (not like the shadowing I had done in Monaco). It was an interesting day, the car/equipment/motorhome are all incredible. Valterri Bottas was driving, he is Mercedes 2nd driver. I had been told in advance that they called him The Computer, because of the way he could give incredibly precise and ridiculously specific feed back about almost anything. And I was not disappointed, he did seem to be more machine than man when answering questions and giving feedback. I have never experienced anything like that before, and am probably unlikely to again.
But once that was over, I got to go home, and I was ready for the break, and the familiar faces and places by then. I flew back to Detroit and my parents picked me up from the airpot (thanks) and took me back to London. After the requisite Cracker Barrel lunch stop of course. I made it back in time to have a couple of minutes to see the hardware that had accumulated over this season from my time in Nascar (it was like Christmas morning, have you seen my belt buckle?) before going to play some ultimate frisbee. The next 3 days were spent at the cottage with friends, and we even got a wavy Saturday out of it! On the Monday my parents came up, and we stayed there until Friday evening. That included a Friday at the track in Grand Bend, and happily, finally, the Atom felt like a proper track car. The next day I flew to Halifax for two nights to see Cam, whom I hadn’t seen in several years at least. I do quite enjoy Halifax, though it had changed a lot since I was there last. I need to get back sometime for a little bit longer to do some proper exploring, right Dee? Then back to the cottage for a few days of relaxing, something I had rather struggled to do up until this point on my vacation. Then two final nights in London, including a delicious coffee at the London Bicycle Cafe, a visit to the Brewing Coop, and the obligatory Rae Rae bombs at Mollys, and then I was off back to England.
I was in reading for three nights, during which time I packed the rest of my stuff up. Half of it is now under my desk in Didcot, while the rest is with me on my adventures. Which I guess makes this a good time to talk about my adventures. I will be adding five F1 races to my calendar this fall, in addition to the four F2/GP3 races, and five 2018 F2 development tests. As such, I don’t expect to be back in England until at least close to the end of October. And I will spend a max of probably 10 days there between now and New Years, so holding onto my room didn’t really make sense to me. On this current trip, I will be going from Belgium straight to Milan, then to Magny Cours in France, then Frankfurt and Stuttgart in Germany, then Singapore, then I think Barcelona and Malaysia. As I sit here without my schedule in front of me, I’m not exactly sure beyond the next week or so. It should be interesting!